Global warming hits Antarctica.
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The first comprehensive survey of Antarctica’s ice shelves finds that melting is occurring at a rate unprecedented in modern history. Warming oceans are literally dissolving away the ice from underneath, according to lead author Eric Rignot, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and researcher with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The study is published today, June 14, in the journal Science.
Before this new study, scientists believed that iceberg calving–when large chunks of ice break off a glacier and fall into the sea–was the dominant form of ice loss in Antarctica. Now, researchers find that 55 percent of all ice shelf loss from 2003 to 2008 was due to basal ice melt, an amount much greater than previously thought. According to Rignot, the finding has significant implications for scientists’ understanding of how the frozen continent responds to climate change and demonstrates how the Southern Ocean is the most important control on the evolution of the polar ice sheet.